Opinion piece - Let's talk about 'Mary Sues'.

Hi everyone! I just wanted to write a brief post about the dreaded "Mary Sue" and what I think about it. 

And I think it's fucking bullshit.

Well, let's be honest here. I used to use the term a lot to dismiss female characters who seemed like Plain Jane characters who would ~suddenly~ become awesome and amazing with superpowers and shit or have a million guys attracted to her. Yet I, like many male and female readers, would adore male characters with pretty similar stories. I also even disliked well developed female characters simply because they seemed to have "not enough flaws" and then, yes, disliked those who had "too many." 

Internalised misogynism, much? 

Sadly, I am not an isolated case. In any manner, I want to discuss the "Mary Sue" in two cases.  

The fanfic OC/Reader-Insert "Mary Sue"

Okay let's face it, it's fucking fanfiction. Get over it. I write it, I read it, people write/read it - because of what reason - oh that's right, a fantasy. I want to read a spinoff of a franchise that is something catered towards me because that's what fanfiction is - a spinoff that caters towards people's fantasies, whether it be sexual or not. 

And you know what? So what if that OC is an unrealistically amazing, overly perfect person? If you don't like it - go search for another fanfic. The Internet is big and there will be something, if you can't find it, grow up and write it yourself. Besides, the writer published it so that similar souls could read and find enjoyment in it and if you don't like it - so what? SO WHAT?!?!?!? /rage mode on/ 

You know what angers me wayyy more than "Mary Sue" OCs? Canon characters depicted in ridiculously OOC ways. That sort of crap makes me want to smash a laptop - but at the same time, whatever man, if you want to write Levi as a lovey-dovey dere or something go ahead, that's your business (unless you write female charactes as bitchy, 2D trying-to-get-in-the-way of main relationship characters or any flat TV tropes, that stuff is already overdone in mainstream media, good Lord). 

Not only that, but fanfiction IS truly, a way for one to improve in writing stories. You can get feedback, you can see for yourself how well you are writing, so on and so forth. I know for a fact that five years ago, when I first started writing fanfic, it was completely atrocious and I want to throw myself out of a window after rereading my old fanfiction, and it was also ridiculously problematic. ...But it was a learning experience.

(And even if they marked higher than they should... my school gave me full marks in my Ext 1 English creative writing and folio creative tasks. Would I have achieved anything like that with no practice? Nope.)

You cannot write a good character if you have no experience writing at all. No one can write a huge-ass novel that is perfect without having written a hundred terrible stories. If that manifests as "overly perfect" characters, then so what? At least they enjoyed writing it. And yes, there WILL be people who enjoy reading it. 

Basically, "Mary Sues" have some literary merit. I know, shocking.They can assist budding writers in improving on writing believable 3D female characters and also are a great way for both readers and authors to find added solace in spinoff stories.

Let's move onto why I find the term "Mary Sue" to describe... 

Canon Characters 

...as problematic. Wait, did I say problematic? Sorry, I meant sexist as heckie. Aw dayum, I went there. 

Obvious anime characters who are hated for being women: Sakura Haruno from Naruto, Orihime Inoue from Bleach, Tohru Honda from Fruits Basket, actually the list goes on. See this tumblr for some great reasoning of why some characters shouldn't be hated

I never understood the hate for Sakura as I loved her from the get-go. I understood it with Tohru and Orihime whom I read about during my problematic, internalised-misogynistic younger years and wow. Why is it we need to instantly label women with stereotypically feminine traits of "emotional" and the like as "Mary Sues"? (This is the one consistent factor between ''Mary Sue'' characters in my opinion. That and most being popular with the in-verse boys.) 

I actually do find that it is GIRLS/WOMEN who hate on female characters as "Mary Sues" more than males for these reasons: 

  • Too emotional
  • Boring person who gets guys too easily, therefore a "slut"
  • Gets in the way of yaoi pairings

Males that hate on female characters for being "useless" and treat them awfully seem to lurk elsewhere... there are some who label female characters as "Mary sue" too, though, and it's these people I want to target in this piece.

To all of you: you need to stop. 

Too often, it's a way of dismissing a female (remember the meaning of "Mary Sue" directly correlates to a female character; its male counterpart "Gary Stu" is rarely used) who is confident in herself or actually surprisingly developed. 

When criticising a female character, ask not why they are so "boring" and "annoying" but why do you think they are this way? If they were a guy, would you still be bothered? WOULD YOU REALLY? (Go Google the Genderbent version now.) If so - is it because they're 2D in personality - because the writer isn't good at writing or something? Let's face it - the real question you should be asking is: 

Are they human enough? 

Are you hating them because they represent something you strive to be but could never be? Do you hate them because they act in a way that doesn't correlate with your beliefs? Are you upset because their reaction is due to a trauma they can't help? 

Don't just dismiss the character as "Mary Sue". It's a weak criticism and is detrimental, too.

If it's genuinely because the writer cannot write realistic female characters (because *cough* they're probably male...) then why not criticise them? And while you're at it - ask how that character could be improved

I'm sick of hearing "she's just a Mary Sue!" because more often than not, it's a criticism of "How dare a woman be in any way REALISTIC" rather than "that author is writing in a problematic manner." 

And in the end - a work of fiction is ultimately either a criticism or a fantasy of our own world - if a female character is a female power fantasy of being an "ultimate female" - feel free to criticise the problematic aspects but otherwise let it be. There are plenty of male power fantasy characters that people admire/turn a blind eye to instead of dismissing as "Gary Stu."

Whoomp, this kinda veered off topic. Haha. Well, I need to go to bed now, will check for errors later. 

Till next time~ 


  1. I think the reason you have a problem with the term Mary Sue is not because you dislike the concept it represents, but because the term is misused so often. To me, a Mary Sue is a character who doesn't need to struggle.

    The problem with Mary Sues is not necessarily that they are too perfect, too well-liked by other characters, or always right (though they can have those symptoms). The problem most people have with Mary Sues is that Mary Sues drain all the conflict from stories. In essence, the problem with a Mary Sue is that it is overwhelmingly obvious that the Mary Sue will always win, in every situation.

    Why does this annoy people who read stories? Not because the Mary Sue is female -- Gary Stus are just as annoying as Mary Sues for the same reason. And before you say that Gary Stus don't exist and they're like a mythic construct to justify the existence of sexism, an example of a Gary Stu would be the Naruto presented in fanfic Chunin Exam Day, especially later on.

    The reason that Mary Sues annoy people is that there is no reason to care when a Mary Sue gets involved. This effect is twofold:

    When a Mary Sue gets involved, there are no stakes. After all, a Mary Sue is perfect, a Mary Sue cannot get anything wrong, cannot lose -- there is nothing at risk. If there is nothing at risk, there are no stakes for the reader. Why should they keep on reading? If there is no risk of failure, then any victory, any success is hollow. There has to be at least a solid possibility of loss for winning to be worth anything.

    Furthermore, Mary Sues are notoriously difficult to relate to as characters. We relate with characters within stories because they are human, like us. And a key part of being human is being not-perfect. So if a character stands out in every way, never struggles, always succeeds, a reader will not be able to empathise with the character. A character who succeeds in spite of struggle, who manages to remain moral despite everything stacked against them, a character who succeeds against obstacles, not because they were easy (for the character), but in spite of the fact that they were hard, is a far more admirable character than a Mary Sue who triumphs just because the author says so.

    There are stories that succeed in spite of having Mary Sues. Stories with exquisite style or worldbuilding, or interesting side-characters. Some stories with Mary Sues are even popular because of it, because the reader can insert themselves into the role of the Mary Sue, imagine all these wonderful things happening to them, in a world where everything goes right and they don't have to think, just enjoy.

    And it takes a lot more skill to create a character who is human, than it takes to create a Mary Sue.

    1. I think that your points are quite valid and it is certainly true that people misuse the term all too frequently to simply dismiss otherwise well-developed female characters, which makes me very uneasy on using the term "Mary Sue". I am far more inclined towards the terms "flat character" or "2D characters" which I feel are more descriptive of why a character, in this case a female one, is not well depicted.

      However I do believe that sexism does have something to do with it. There are plenty of male characters who if female would be considered "Mary Sues" but are not really reviled and in fact admired by fandom. However I still hear far less criticism and hateful anger, as a whole, towards a "Gary Stu" than I do with "Mary Sues". I think I state fairly clearly in my post that I do believe "Gary Stus" exist, however there are far fewer characters labelled as such as there are compared to female characters, which is also quite problematic considering how there is more male than female representation in media.

      I actually think that relating to "Mary Sues" depends from person to person. Often, a "Mary Sue" has various flat traits (see Bella Swan), etc as a catch-all for readers - despite some not relating, others may feel that such a generic description actually allows them to picture themselves in the universe. While others, me included, cannot relate to such protagonists, there are female teenagers who do (I have a friend who does!) In my opinion, I don't like reading novels with such characters and it does irritate me when they garner far more success than novels which have more rounded female characters.

      I guess my point is that while I do find two-dimensional female characters problematic, I also find the use of "Mary Sue" as a descriptive trope to be also problematic. Unlike other tropes such as "Femme Fatale" or the reviled/desired "Manic Pixie Dream Girl", and I believe you are right when you say this is my main problem with the term, that "Mary Sue" is simply far too often used as a thinly-veiled dismissal of otherwise great or interesting characters and further impede on female representation within media.

      Also this was comment was about "Mary Sues" in general media - when it comes to fanfiction, writers have more allowance because I see fanfiction as more writing practice, which still requires time and effort to create obviously, but due to their status as informally self-published works, shouldn't be quite so criticised as formally published works.

      Thanks for commenting by the way! I was so stoked to see such a well written comment on my post haha <3 ; u ;